Ready for students

A classroom at McKinley Elementary school is ready to accept students with these desks six feet apart for social distancing. But will there be students in them in August?

Abilene Superintendent of Schools Greg Brown is convinced Abilene students will attend school in person when the 2020-21 school year begins in August.

 “That said, we will know more from the state after this week and we will continue to work with our county health officer,” Brown said Wednesday morning.

Kansas school districts are waiting on guidelines from the Kansas State Department of Education before plans can be finalized. That information is expected to be released later this week.

While Abilene school officials are making plans for the start of school in August, three celebrations planned later this month to celebrate the end of the 2020 school year have been altered and/or cancelled due to the local uptick in COVID-19 cases.

As of Wednesday, July 8, Dickinson County had 18 positive cases of coronavirus — up from eight on Thursday, July 2.

Abilene High School graduation is still planned for Sunday, July 19 in the Abilene High School gym. However, plans have shifted dramatically in recent days. Most significantly,  the number of guest tickets per student has been reduced from eight to four.

Abilene Middle School’s eighth grade recognition night, scheduled for Monday, July 20 and Night of the Stars, which was set for Tuesday, July 21, have been cancelled.

“We’ve worked very closely with Dr. (Brian) Holmes, our county health officer. Most of our changes we’re seeing are reflective of recommendations we’ve received from him,” Brown said.

Graduation changes

Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith announced the graduation changes Tuesday in an email to parents and on Facebook. 

Smith noted the changes were made based on the “best beliefs and intentions for the safety of everybody involved.”

Initially, graduating students were allowed to have eight guests. That number has now been reduced to two. Everyone is required to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth that must be worn until they exit the building.

“With the uptick in cases and graduation bringing in lots of people from out of the area, it appears we will protect the kids better if we limit it to two guests instead of eight,” Supt. Brown said.

Also:

• Graduates will be seated on the floor, six feet apart from each other.  

• There will no rose ceremony and the senior singers will not perform.

• Graduates may remove their masks while stepping onto the stage to receive their diplomas.

• Guests will be seated in the pull out bleachers and upper balcony sections based on six-foot separation guidelines. With the reduction in guest numbers, seating locations on tickets already distributed are not valid.

• Floor seating for guests with mobility issues will still be honored. Seats will be reserved by name along the first row of bleacher seats on either side of the gym floor.

• All other seats will be available on a first-come basis. All available seats will be marked with tape. If there is no tape, the seat is not available.

• Any photography must take place from the guest’s seating location or outside the building after the ceremony is over.

• Families are asked not to congregate in the commons area for pictures or to visit.

• Doors will open to guests at 1:30 p.m. July 19.

Brown noted that families are welcome to have their own celebrations.

8th grade recognition/NOTS cancelled

Abilene Middle School Principal Jenna Delay said cancellation of the eighth grade recognition ceremony and Night of the Stars was an announcement she “did not want to have to make.”

“I so wish we could gather to celebrate our AMS students’ achievements over the course of this highly unusually year, but unfortunately, that is just not going to be the case,” Delay wrote.

Brown said the nature of both celebrations would have made it difficult to manage the various COVID-19 protection requirements.

“Based on information from health professionals, it just wasn’t feasible at this time,” Brown said.

In Delay’s email and Facebook post, she asked parents to help students understand “we do not have a choice in this matter and that, while extremely unfortunate, the health of our community is of the utmost importance.”

She noted that the eighth graders and Night of the Stars attendees would receive a special package in the mail to celebrate their achievements.

School in August?

With plans shaping up to hold classes in school next month, Brown said 

Abilene USD 435 officials will be sending out a survey this week to families.

“We want to get a handle on their biggest concerns and build in some flexibility to meet those concerns to our best ability,” Brown said. 

However, Brown is pretty sure a number of new protocols will be in place.

“I think we need to commit ourselves to the use of masks at some level, but we’ll work through those details with Dr. Holmes and KSDE (Kansas State Department of Education),” Brown said. 

The district has orderwed equipment, including masks, specialized cleaning equipment and thermometers to “help manage the school day,” he said.

More information regarding the new school year should be announced in upcoming weeks.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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